AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Timothy Gardner rolls a chain of rubber bands into a ball as girlfriend Jen Wright watches. When the ball weighs about 25 pounds, it will be added to Gardner's large rubber band ball in Snag Harbor Museum in Staten Island.
Can you help Timothy Gardner of Lehighton?
He has a dream to build the largest rubber band ball in the world and needs donations of rubber bands to do it.
Gardner has been placing layer upon layer of rubber bands on the ball that he started 11 years ago. It now weighs 420 pounds, has a diameter of two feet, and is made of more than a quarter of a million rubber bands of varying sizes and colors.
With as much work as he has invested, Gardner is far short of the current world record of 9,400 pounds. "He (the world record holder) lives in Florida, but he is not working on it anymore," Gardner said. "So, luckily there's no more competition from him."
But there is competition. The closest is from "a rubber band ball builder in Delaware, the third largest," Gardner noted.
Gardner's rubber band ball may be the largest of any made by anyone from Pennsylvania, except the ball is not in Pennsylvania. It's in the Snag Harbor Museum in Staten Island, New York.
Gardner was born and raised in the Todt Hill projects on Staten Island, a rough neighborhood.
"If I hadn't gotten into rubber band ball making, my life would be totally different," he said. "I would have hung around with those kids and probably done the same stupid things that they did, and ended up nowhere good. If you talk to people who knew me 11 years ago, they would question rhetorically, 'Timmy's not in prison yet?' It was a total life change."
Gardner remembers the day it all started - Aug. 2, 1999.
"I was in my house just hanging out, and bored," he said. "So I made a little rubber band ball. It was about an inch thick - probably 20 or 25 rubber bands - and took about 15 minutes."
Over the following days, Gardner added to his ball. From his postman, he received his first of many donated rubber bands.
"It began to grow uncontrollably," he said. "I had nothing better to do. I thought, I might as well go for the world record."
Gardner was 11 years old and in sixth grade.
"In class, I would tie the rubber bands under my desk," he said. "There would be a pile on the floor, and my teacher would look at me as if I was terrible at hiding it. I learned to wrap it around my hand - still a habit I have today."
Gardner has a Bart Simpson tattoo on one wrist.
"As a kid, I had a bad attitude," he said. "When I started the ball, I straightened up."
His parents told him that he could work on the ball as long as he did well in school. When he didn't, they took away his ball for a week.
"That made me straighten up," he said.
As the rubber band ball grew, he would roll it down the street on a hand truck, and stop at local shops to ask for donations of rubber bands.
Eventually, Garner's rubber band ball grew to 300 pounds. It was like a homegrown wildlife specimen - too large and heavy to remain in his family's home. His family had it trucked to the Snag Harbor Museum where it was placed on a pedestal for a mathematics exhibit.
"When we rolled it from the truck, it was two feet, maybe 30 inches high, it bounced maybe 15 inches, and made a loud thud," he recalled.
While at the exhibit, Gardner visited it each month to add about 25 pounds of rubber bands. Because the ball continued to grow, it was thought of as a living exhibit, and people would come back to watch its progress.
One morning, Gardner learned that his rubber band ball, now over 320 pounds, was found in another exhibit.
"They had it on a stand in the museum," he said. "The stand broke in the middle of the night, and the ball rolled 50 feet down the hall. The next morning they found it in the jungle exhibit."
Gardner moved to Lehighton and took a job at the new Wal-Mart. He moved to be close to his girlfriend, Jen Wright, a substitute teacher. They are one month apart. Their mothers knew one another. They shared a crib at one time. Wright moved away but they stayed in touch, and now they are together again.
When asked about Gardner's rubber band ball project, Wright replied, "I think it is inspiring to people. It's nice to see schoolchildren cycle through the museum. They find it fascinating that a rubber band ball could be so big."
"It's cool just to watch it," Gardner said. "I'd go to the museum and add to it, then I'll come back and look at it again, and it is so much bigger. Like wow! It just makes you feel good inside."
Gardner visits the museum about once a month. In between, he chains rubber bands together - typically about 25 pounds worth. At the museum, he spends four or five hours spinning the new rubber band chain onto his rubber band ball.
Gardner is willing to do the work. His limitation is rubber bands. He asks everyone he knows, and many that he doesn't know. He recently received a three- pound donation from a rubber band manufacturer, the Alliance Rubber Company of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
On Christmas, he received a three-pound box of rubber bands from his fellow employees at Wal-Mart. He's hoping to interest the company in his project.
Gardner would be happy if a Pennsylvania museum were interested in housing his rubber band ball, so he could look into claiming it as the largest in the state.
"I'm definitely going for the record, or I'll die trying," he said. "If I get enough support, it should take maybe five years. At my current rate of getting rubber bands, it could take about 100 years."
To donate rubber bands to help Timothy Gardner towards the world record for the largest rubber band ball, send to: Timothy Garner, 132 South Fifth St., Apt D10, Lehighton, PA 18235.